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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 28 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

American Idol XIII Double Feature: Crazy (Top) Eights

Given the use of the save, I thought I’d review both of Top 8 weeks together. So, spoiler alert: in case you didn’t know, someone gets saved. I’ll talk about the merits of that save later, but for now, let’s get to the first of our Top 8 nights. The theme was audition songs and the goal, inevitably, was for the competitors to show their progress since their auditions and to take their performances to the next level. Without the lure of a novel song choice, the competitors really had to step it up and, I’d say, they did…

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

1. Jessica Meuse – Blue Eyed Lie (Original Song) – After Jena performed her original song as her wildcard performance during Rush Week, I held out hope that we’d get to see some more originals this season. I think, if anything could breathe new life into the competition it’s letting the competitors sing songs of their own. Many of the problems the judges complain about, like choosing songs that don’t suit them and not being able to emotionally connect to a song could probably be solved this way, but not everyone has original songs up their sleeve to help them. That said, I think this was one of Jessica’s best performances. The nasty licks she gave to some of the words just stung like you were the one she was singing to and, despite the judges criticisms for her to “move around more”, I really don’t think this song required that. She just had to stand there, sing it the way she did and play her guitar.

Rating: A

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

2. CJ Harris – Soulshine (Allman Brothers Band) – I’m confused why the judges are reluctant to just tell CJ straight up that his pitch has become the dominant problem with all of his performances. We get that the guy can show some emotion, but when it comes right down to it, we’re at the Top 8 and we still have a guy who can only kind of, sort of sing. That kind of thing wouldn’t fly on The Voice which, despite the Voices many other failings, is one thing I like about it. While I think Soulshine is a good example of the type of songs CJ should be picking, I just didn’t enjoy his performance the way I did some of the others tonight and I think it’s because he didn’t breathe new life into the song. He could have softened it up, added a little gospel tinge to it, but instead he just sang it the same, basic way he did in his audition. Like I said with Dexter a few weeks ago, I’m gonna need more.

Rating: C

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #1: Alex & Jena – Just Give Me A Reason (Pink feat. Nate Reuss from Fun.) – Ah yes, the routine of the dreaded duets. In theory, they seem like a great idea. I love hear the voices of two of the competitors come together, but given the obvious lack of rehearsal time for them, they often end up as a hot mess served in between better performances and just tend to drag the mood down. Still, I was glad they did away with the judging of them this year. For me, Jena dominated this duet. Alex sounded good, but his often timid vocals disappeared behind hers. Sure, Jena was meant to emulate Pink who does the same to Nate’s vocals at times, but I felt like the match up was even more askew here, rather than complimentary. Still, they didn’t sound bad, just off-balance.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

3. Sam Woolf – Lego House (Ed Sheeran) – If anybody needed to go back to their audition, a time when they were a frontrunner in the competition, it was Sam. His rendition of Lego House back when we first met him was so surprising that we couldn’t help like what he had to offer. Oh how times have changed. I thought Sam’s version of the song this time around was a little devoid of life. After watching Ed Sheeran perform it on youtube, there were ways Sam could take it to another level rather than changing the vocals. I don’t think the vocals really need to be touched but if he could make us feel the song, it might have be different.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #2: Caleb & Jessica – Stop Dragging My Heart Around (Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks) – Here’s an example of where a duet just worked. I’m going to put it off to Caleb and Jessica being a bit more seasoned than some of their fellow competitors. Caleb brought out a fun, loose side of Jessica and their voices sounded fantastic together. They both have that raspy quality and both of them can really inject a song with power in ways most of their other competitors can’t (except Jena). Unlike the rest of the duets tonight, I really thought this was worthwhile.

Rating: B+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

4. Malaya Watson – Ain’t No Way (Aretha Franklin) – Malaya’s audition song gave her another chance to shine and while I think she sounded good, it was the first time I was reminded of her youth and immaturity. When she sang When I Was Your Man, the song suited her more. It was serious, but not “too old” for her. This song felt that way at times. Truth be told, Malaya probably chose the song for her audition because it showed off her vocals and she wasn’t really worried about emotional connection at that stage in the competition but, like I said, this week was about taking a song they already knew and finding a way to make it better and I think maybe that’s what Malaya needed to do.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

5. Dexter Roberts – One Mississippi (Brett Eldredge) – I won’t say Dexter was so good that I’d give him an automatic free pass to the Top 5 or 6 of the competition, but this performance was dramatically better than what he’s been offering to us since Lucky Man. I think the judges finally got through to him and Dexter, armed with a good song from his audition, gave us some emotion and some pretty good vocals. Hopefully in the weeks to come he can find a way to incorporate those things into a wider variety of song choices.

Rating: B

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #3: Sam & Malaya – Lucky (Jason Mraz feat. Colbie Caillat) – Unlike Caleb and Jessica, Sam and Malaya’s voices clashed like melted chocolate and pickled herring. Malaya has a very distinct tone, so I doubt anyone would have been able to really mesh well with her and, bless Sam’s heart, he tried. He didn’t sound terrible, just out of his element, but with their voices doing all they could to avoid harmonizing, this performance was about as painful to listen to as it was watching their forced chemistry.

Rating: D

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

6. Jena Irene – Rolling In The Deep (Adele) – Jena’s performance was, no doubt, polarizing. She took a very, very well known song and shifted the melody in an attempt to avoid a straight forward cover of it and I appreciated that. While it didn’t feel like a home run all the way through, I give her credit for standing by the arrangement and singing the heck out of the song. Jena certainly knows her voice and one thing I don’t think she suffers from is the timidity to go for those big notes when they’re there. I think just for how gutsy she is and how good she’s been since her Bottom 3 scare, she deserves to make it pretty far in the competition at this point.

Rating: B+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #4: Dexter & CJ – Alright (Darius Rucker) – Another duet that probably looked good on paper but manifested itself as a jumbled hot mess was this one featuring our two country boys from Alabama. I just never felt like the two of them were in sync with each other and it made for a really weird performance. I think, like I said earlier, they would have benefitted from more time to rehearse and just figure out who was singing what and how, but as it was, they should probably be happy this wasn’t judged. Or maybe I should because if the judges were nice to them, I would have flipped my lid.

Rating: D

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

7. Caleb Johnson – Chain of Fools (Aretha Franklin) – Despite the limits of the theme, Caleb still had the most interesting song choice of the night. Problem was, I wasn’t sure it worked for me. Sure, it let Caleb show off his voice, but in parts it just felt like it was dragging and a sleepy arrangement. I guess I judge Caleb on a bit of a different scale because I know what he’s capable of, but I think this was a great song and had a lot of potential for him and I think the drive just wasn’t as smooth as I was expecting given who was behind the wheel.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

8. Alex Preston – Fairytales (Original Song) – Like Jessica, Alex benefitted wholeheartedly from being able to perform his own song, but with the band behind him to take it up a notch. Alex’s song had that Jason Mraz vibe that he’s so good at and really set a good mood to close the night. I think the other great thing is while sometimes his Mraz-lite shtick gets old, with his own original song, it felt knew and fresh again, so no one could fault him for that.

Rating: A

When all was said and done, Malaya, CJ and Sam were our Bottom 3, as I expected. I also expected Sam to go home, but what I didn’t expect was the judges to use their save. After sending Majesty to walk the plank last week, I thought they’d send another floundering frontrunner overboard but apparently they had other plans. Did Sam deserve the save? Maybe not. But they had to use it at some point and Sam is pretty likeable, so when the confetti rained down on him as Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” played in the background, even I got a little misty eyed. But as Ryan said, it means the stakes are raised. There would be no second chances as we went into the next week of competition.

Sam Woolf is Saved! (Credit: Fox & 19 Entertainment)

Fortunately, the competitors had an amazing mentor on hand to help them. Unfortunately, he arrived after they had chosen their songs so we were left with some pretty basic, overwrought picks, but Season 7 Champ David Cook did give them all the exact feedback I had been hoping he would. The problem was the some of them took it to heart and others didn’t. Cook is also an expert at covering 80’s songs so the decision to have him mentor seemed appropriate.

David Cook’s face is an accurate depiction of mine when nobody listened to his astute advice. (Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment)

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

1. Jena Irene – “I Love Rock & Roll” (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts) – I love the sultry start to Jena’s song choice for this week and while I didn’t love the song itself because I didn’t think it let her go very far, there were parts in the middle where I got Kelly Clarkson vibes from her, and I mean that in the best way possible. I thought she did the best she could with this song, but part of me wishes she would have chosen something with a little more range, both emotionally and vocally.

Rating: B

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

2. Dexter Roberts – “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” (The Georgia Satellites) – Cook’s feedback to Dexter was probably one of the mostly hilariously honest things he said all night. When he told him to not be afraid of walking while playing the guitar, I had to laugh, but it seemed Dexter, more than anyone, took Cook’s feedback to heart and delivered another performance that was an improvement on some of his others and, unlike Lucky Man and One Mississippi, it was uptempo. Progress! I think Dexter still has a ways to go before he’s a full-fledged country star and I feel comfortable crowning him this season’s winner, but the fact that he can take in and use feedback bodes well for him in the industry.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #1: Sam & Alex – “The Girl Is Mine” (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) – Unlike last week, where both men were kind of overtaken by the female partner in the duet (in a good or bad way), this week I felt like they complimented each other’s style a little more. Obviously, they’re friends so they probably felt a little more comfortable up there together and when rehearsing, but I almost would have liked a little more playful banter between the two of them. I mean, this song is ultimately about two male friends fighting over a girl and I only sort of got that from them.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

3. Malaya Watson – “Through the Fire” (Chaka Khan) – Oh Malaya, gone are the days of your surprisingly great gospel twists on songs. This song choice was just lazy and not at all suited for her tone. She ended up sounding whiny and nasally and even though she was hitting notes at times, it was painful to listen to. I wish I could give her a free pass and hope she makes a better choice next week, but this song just seems to be cursed on Idol, as evidence by Siobhan Magnus’s equally rough rendition back in Season 9.

Rating: D

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #2: Jena & Caleb – “It’s Only Love” (Bryan Adams & Tina Turner) – This was another example of a good duet and, maybe it’s just The Caleb Effect. But like I said above, Caleb and Jena’s voices compliment each other well so I’m not really surprised that this turned out alright. Not to mention, I feel like Jena and Caleb give it their all every week so we weren’t going to get a half-baked performance from two people who actually seem to be fighting to stay in the competition.

Rating: B+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

4. Jessica Meuse – “Call Me” (Blondie) – I think JLo hit the nail on the head when she said that no matter how well Jessica sang this song, it wasn’t going to be a show-stopper. That said, she did sing it well and she did loosen up to some extent, but I think with a better song but those same changes, she might have had an even better performance. I feel like Cook saw what I see in Jessica: she’s very reminscent of other female rockers in seasons past and if she can find their charisma, she might be able to take herself further. I also think Jess should use some of her country roots to her advantage to sneak by a few of the other competitors and get to the final three, at the very least.

Rating: B

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

5. Sam Woolf – “Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper) – After receiving the save, I felt like Sam – at least vocally – stepped it up this week. I wasn’t a fan of how the producers dumped him in the middle of the crowd. That’s never a good way to help a guy get over his stage fright and look into the cameras like Cook advised him too, but he did do some cool tricks with a very well known song and Allison Iraheta, as his backup singer, really helped him give a pretty good performance when he needed one most.

Rating: B

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #3: Malaya & CJ – “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (Aretha Franklin & George Michael) – Back in Season 11, Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet slayed this song. Mostly because it requires diva powerhouse type voices to sing it. Malaya, sort of, has that voice but is still growing into it, unlike her Season 11 predecessors. CJ, on the other hand, is no match for Joshua or George Michael, so this duet came off as shaky, rather than confident and didn’t do either of them any favours.

Rating: D

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

6. Alex Preston – “Every Breathe You Take” (The Police) – The most polarizing performance of the night undoubtedly came from the contestant who’s been notoriously unpolarizing thus far. Like JLo, I felt that Alex’s rendition did suck a bit of the life out of the song and while I thought some of his phrasing was cool, I didn’t think the song retained that haunting quality that Sting brings to it. I’m not really a fan of this song in the first place though, so maybe that’s why I was reluctant to like any rearrangements of it, but I think this was another example of Alex stepping a little too far out of the box.

Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Duet #4: Jessica & Dexter – “Islands In The Streams” (Dolly Parton & Kenny Rodgers) – I’m a bit impartial to this song because I grew up on the Bee Gees, so I had high expectations. I thought Jess and Dexter’s soulful country voices could blend well on it though and they did, at times, but unlike Jess’s duet last week with Caleb, the chemistry in this one felt a little forced and it made the blending of their voices come across in the same way.

Rating: C+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

7. CJ Harris – “Free Fallin'” (Tom Petty) – I’m really running out of things to say with CJ. This felt like everyone of his other performances: soulful song choice, which suits him, but once again the pitch just wasn’t there. I’m not really sure what he could do to find that sweet spot that Harry keeps talking about but if he doesn’t do it next week, I think the audience may finally clue in and send him on his way.

Rating: D+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

8. Caleb Johnson – “Faithfully” (Journey) – Caleb did exactly as the judges instructed: He sang a down-tempo rock ballad and he did it well. I thought the song suited his voice like a glove and was probably one of the better song choices of the night. That being said, I thought some of his weaknesses showed near the end of the song. When the pyrotechnics went off and he went for that big note, his voice faltered afterwards and kind of sucked the life out of the climax of that song. Sure, the judges still gave him high praise, but I think it was just 10 more minutes in a 350 degree oven away from being fully baked.

Rating: A-

With all that said, there’s one more thing I should address but won’t: the judges. They were just off on the second Top 8 night. Between venturing out into the crowd and giving lazy feedback, it has me worried that the honest, focused judges we once knew might be slipping away. I can’t say I blame them. In a season where we’re already at the Top 7 and no one has stepped up to the plate and proven they deserve the title, it makes for a flat competition.

As for our eliminee, Malaya, I can’t say I’m surprised. Was the use of the Bottom 2 instead of a Bottom 3 just a ploy to make it seem like Sam was safer than he actually is? Probably. But when all was said and done, CJ and Malaya might have been the right Bottom 2 based on Wednesday’s performances. Based on their track record, I would not have eliminated Malaya, but it was what I predicted would happen.

Next week, we’ve got a really interesting them in store for us: for each contestant, their 6 rivals will choose one song each for them and that contestant will have to pick one of the 6 to perform. We could be in for some great song choices if the competitors truly challenge each other. Personally, I’m hoping to hear Dexter do some Gaga… but we’ll see. For now, sound off in the polls and let me know your favourite performances from the two nights and comment to let me know what you think about Sam getting the save and Malaya’s subsequent fall from grace.

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